The Brandon Wheat Kings will try to put a positive spin on a frustrating first half this weekend.
The Wheat Kings (11-18-2-2) play three games in three nights before going into the Western Hockey League’s Christmas break, with the first two being a home-and-home set against the Moose Jaw Warriors (12-15-3-4), who hold down eighth place in the Eastern Conference — five points ahead of Brandon.
It’s a chance for the Wheat Kings to make up some ground and have a happy holiday, or continue their slump and have a blue Christmas.
"I think this is probably one of the most important times of the year," Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock said. "… I think for us right now, these next three games are going to kinda show what direction we want to go. If we come out with three hard-fought battles and hopefully get a win or two or three, I think it will be a great sign. I think it’s really going to show what our team is made of this weekend."
Tonight’s game is the Wheat Kings’ last home date of the first half and head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said it’s the game the team is focusing on to set the stage for the rest of the weekend.
"We want to start with a good performance at home," he said. "We’ve been kind of in and out here, probably more out than in at home. But we want to make sure that we have a good start to the weekend (tonight). That’s what we’re looking for first. If we have a good effort (tonight) and start with the win it will carry into Saturday night and then Saturday night can carry into Sunday night."
While the Wheat Kings have dropped eight of their last nine games, there are positive signs. The club has been competitive in its last four games, winning one, losing one in a shootout and being tied with the Saskatoon Blades until late in Tuesday’s 7-5 loss.
"I think our last four games we’ve actually taken a step," Pulock said. "Some of the losses we’ve had have been some mistakes that I think are easily fixable, but I think we’ve come out with a lot of hard work in our last four games and that’s what our team needs to do if we want to have a chance to win."
After struggling to score following their strong early-season production, the Wheat Kings have broken out with five goals in each of their last two games, but it’s come at a price. The club has given up an almost unfathomable 101 shots in its last two games.
"We’re still making mistakes that are killing us," Gylywoychuk said. "I think that right now I look at the big picture. It’s what we’re doing on the ice that’s giving the other team opportunities. … I think it’s going to be important for us to establish (a strong game) defensively and really keep hitting home to these guys that if we play strong defensively that the opportunity to play offence is going to be there."
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon G Corbin Boes (leg) didn’t step onto the ice until late in Thursday’s practice, loosening up and then facing some shots after the formal session ended … D Ayrton Nikkel (flu) also missed the practice, along with C Tyrel Seaman (suspected concussion) and D Rene Hunter (personal), while LW Jack Palmer (upper body) did not taking part in contact drills … The Wheat Kings wrap up their first half Sunday against the Prince Albert Raiders … The AAAA varsity girls’ high school provincial volleyball champion Neelin Spartans will be honoured tonight as the Atom-Jet Innovators of the Month.